Champion Letruska Returns to Defend Apple Blossom Title

April 21, 2022

HOT SPRINGS, AR—Letruska spent roughly two months at Oaklawn during the 2021 meeting. While her 2022 stay will be much shorter, the goal remains the same – win Saturday’s $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.

Now an Eclipse Award winner, Letruska got her first feel of the Oaklawn surface this year by jogging two laps the wrong way and schooling in the gate after the first renovation break Thursday morning under jockey Geovanni Franco. The track was rated muddy.

Letruska, who arrived Wednesday, is trying to become just the fourth horse to win multiple runnings of the Apple Blossom, following Hall of Famers Paseana (1992, 1993), Azeri (2002, 2003, 2004) and Zenyatta (2008 and 2010).

Trained by Fausto Gutierrez, Letruska recorded her breakout victory nationally in last April’s Apple Blossom when she edged two-time Eclipse Award winner Monomoy Girl by a nose. Letruska rode that momentum to three more Grade 1 victories and an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion older dirt female. Her more calculated 2022 racing schedule resumes Saturday.

“The idea is to go back to the Breeders’ Cup, especially now that it’s on this side the country,” Gutierrez said after watching Letruska train Thursday morning. “We have more chances to check what mistakes we had last year and make much better decisions this year. The idea is to run here in the Apple Blossom and maybe three or four more races and try to win the Breeders’ Cup. But we need to go step-by-step and now the most important race is the Apple Blossom.”

Letruska was based this winter and early spring in south Florida, where she opened her 6-year-old campaign with a front-running three-length victory in the $150,000 Royal Delta Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 26 at Gulfstream Park. Letruska was racing for the first time since finishing a leg-weary 10th in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) at 1 1/8 miles Nov. 6 at Del Mar.

Letruska’s only other loss in a rugged eight-race cross-country 2021 campaign was a runner-up finish in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles, Oaklawn’s final major prep for the Apple Blossom. Letruska arrived about 10 days before the Azeri (March 13) and was still on the grounds roughly a week after her April 17 victory in the Apple Blossom.

Gutierrez said Letruska will return to her Keeneland base – she breezed 5 furlongs there April 15 – “one or two days” after the Apple Blossom. The 2022 Breeders’ Cup is at Keeneland.

Letruska schooled in the paddock Thursday morning after training and Gutierrez said he plans to jog the champion two laps the wrong way again Friday morning.

“I don’t want to gallop her again before the race because she’s very explosive,” Gutierrez said.

A daughter of Super Saver, Letruska has an 18-1-1 record from 24 lifetime starts and earnings of $2,348,529.

The projected five-horse Apple Blossom field from the rail out: Maracuja, Ricardo Santana Jr. to ride, 119 pounds; 6-1 on the morning line; Letruska, Jose Ortiz, 124, 7-5; Clairiere, Joel Rosario, 121, 5-2; Miss Imperial, Tiago Pereira, 115, 12-1; and Ce Ce, Victor Espinoza, 121, 2-1.

Champion Ce Ce (2021 female sprinter) also trained Thursday morning after arriving Wednesday from Southern California. Ce Ce won the 2020 Apple Blossom.

Probable post time for the Apple Blossom, which goes as the fifth of 12 races, is 2:18 p.m. (Central). First post Saturday is 12:10 p.m.

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Photo: Coady Photography

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